Leyland's Jaguar foray into Europe begins

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Last year we recorded the debut of the racing Jaguar XJ5.3C for the September Silverstone Tourist Trophy. Now, slightly over 15 months development time since the project began, we can report how two such Jaguars made their debut in the 1977 European Touring Car Championship. The venue was the AC di Milano’s Monza 4-Hours. The now far tighter Course set problems that taxed the engines 4 both the Jaguar and 3-litre plus BMWs to such an extent that all the fastest contestants were eliminated with differing engine failures, prior to quarter distance!

These calamities left a very tedious three-hour event to be won by the same car conquered this event last year, a 3.2-litre Luigi BMW CSL. On this occasion the faithful CSL was driven by the Italian crew of former works Alfa Romeo driver Carlo Facetti, teamed with the wealthy Martino Finotto and Umberto Grano. Their winning speed was fractionally under 100 m.p.h., whereas the same car averaged over 110 m.p.h. on last year’s faster track.

Leyland arrived with two pristine new Jaguar Coupes, prepared to a very attractive standard by Broadspeed of Southam, but the team management had failed to anticipate two vital factors. One was the tightness of the course, and the second was the awful effects that braking periods of up to 9 seconds-for each of the three chicanes-could bring to the lubrication system of the wet sump V12.

Only one spare V12 was brought with the team, so when unofficial practice brought two engine failures, one car was inevitably eliminated. It was very rough fortune indeed that it was Dcrek Bell and Andy Rouse who should have been out of even qualifying for the event, as Bell had actually managed to cut his ignition seconds before any apparent bearing damage could reach the filters. Thus the team decided that they might be able to repair the Bell/Rouse Jaguar’s fuel injected unit, and save the new engine for the second car of John Fitzpatrick/Tim Schenken. Subsequent investigation showed that the Bell V12 was too badly damaged to continue.

However John Fitzpatrick with his usual neat speed, qualified the car on pole position by just under a second over the new Alpina BMW CSL for Vittorio Brambilla/ Dieter Quester. The race’s opening laps showed the Jaguar in far more impressive form than last year, leading by up to 6 seconds in each of the 22 laps it recorded of the 3.6-mile track in Fitzpatrick’s hands. The fuel situation at just over 3 m.p.g. brought the car in for Schenken shortly after 50 minutes of racing. The Australian rejoined the fray in second overall… but only for two laps, when even the help offered by Alpina’s twin auxiliary pumps (fitted specially on Saturday with help from Alpina’s owner) was not enough to stop the Jaguar engine tightening up with the same basic bottom end starvation.

Both the new Alpina car (boasting 340 b.h.p.)and the latest Luigi CSL suffered piston failure before the Jaguar was sidelined, so it was not the failure that some might like to assume. The Jaguar is now 2-3 cwt. lighter than before, lacks the power steering, and has gained on the handling front with a tail spoiler.

Further back the 2-litre Alfetta GTV for Arturo Merzario/Amerigo Bigliazzi confirmed that car’s speed and reliability with a fine second place (it was the same car that ran so well at Silverstone and Spa last season) while third was taken by the now very comprehensively modified VW Scirocco of Helmut Kelleners/Willi Bergmeister.

Bigger diameter road wheels with very low profile tyres are now a permanent feature of this series. The Jaguar takes it to the ultimate with 19 in. diameter Speedline composite wheels and Dunlop rubber. The BMWs have Dunlops on 16 in. diameter BBS wheels, and the VW Sciroccos have everything from their standard 13 in. diameters to the Goodyears on 15 in. wheels of Kelleners’ VW.

Some 3,000 came to watch practice and 15,000 spectators for the race. Next outing for the Jaguars is Salzburgring, Austria, on April 24th. – J.W.

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